What is Faith – Part 6

I have noticed a problem of unclarity in my own thinking and writing about the Thomist view of faith.  Before I go further in discussing Swinburne’s characterization of the Thomist view of faith, I want to briefly consider the point of unclarity or ambiguity in my previous discussion of this view of faith. I have been sliding too easily over the distinction between possibility and necessity concerning the role of reasons and arguments in the Thomist view of faith.

Aquinas believes that it is POSSIBLE to base one’s belief in the existence of God on reasons and arguments.  Aquinas believes it is POSSIBLE to know that God exists on the basis of arguments for the existence of God.  But that does NOT mean that everyone who believes in God bases this belief on reasons and arguments.  The view of Aquinas is that a few people, who are intellectually sharp and who have received a thorough education in philosophy and metaphysics are able to come to know that God exists on the basis of philosophical and metaphysical reasoning about God.  But many people who are not intellectually sharp or who have not had the benefit of a thorough education in philosophy and metaphysics, believe in God and this belief is not based on philosophical and metaphysical reasoning about God.  Thus, although it is POSSIBLE  to have knowledge of the existence of God based on REASON, belief in the existence of God is often NOT based on REASON.

Aquinas thinks that there are some beliefs about the properties and actions of God that are not knowable, even by intellectually sophisticated philosophers, on the basis of REASON, on the basis of reasons and arguments that are grounded in empirical and/or conceptual facts.  For example, Christians believe that God is a Trinity, that God is three persons and yet one being.  Aquinas does not think that belief in the Trinitarian nature of God is something that can be based on REASON; one cannot prove the doctrine of the Trinity on the basis of reasons and arguments grounded in empirical and/or conceptual facts.  So, even philosophers must rely upon REVELATION from God, in order to arrive at the belief that God is a Trinity.

I have argued that when a person TRUSTS in God as a source of information and advice, that this trust is based upon beliefs about the knowledge, character, and motivations of God, and thus that this TRUST is based upon REASON.  But this inference is problematic, because in some cases beliefs about the knowledge, character, and motivations of God are NOT based upon REASON, not based upon reasons and arguments that are grounded in empircal and/or conceptual facts.   Although intellectually sophisticated philosophers can believe in God on the basis of REASON, and thus have beliefs about the knowledge, character, and motivations of God that are based on reasons and arguments grounded in emprical and/or conceptual facts, many people believe in God in a way that is NOT based on REASON, in the view of Aquinas.

Furthermore, just as it appears to be POSSIBLE but not NECESSARY to believe in God’s existence on the basis of REASON, so it would also appear to be POSSIBLE but not NECESSARY to TRUST in God as a source of information and advice on the basis of REASON, given the Thomist view of ‘faith in God’. So, it seems to me that I have over-estimated the role of REASON in the Thomist view of ‘faith in God’.

On the one hand, the Thomist view does make it POSSIBLE for ‘faith in God’ to be a purely rational thing:

Purely Rational Faith:  An intellectually sophisticated philosopher can believe in the existence of God on the basis of philosophical arguments grounded in empirical and/or conceptual facts, and that belief in the existence of God can then provide a rational basis for TRUST in God as a source of information and advice, and given further rationally-based beliefs about God having communicated certain claims (e.g. ‘God is a Trinity’), such a believer can have other additional rationally-justified beliefs about the properties and actions of God (e.g. ‘God is a Trinity’).

However, although the Thomist view allows for such purely rational ‘faith in God’, this view also allows for other ways of having ‘faith in God’ that appear to be much less rational:

Non-Rational Faith:  An intellectually unsophisticated person can believe in the existence of God without basing that belief on reasons or arguments grounded in empirical and/or conceptual facts.  Such a person might also TRUST in God as a source of information and advice on the basis of this belief in the existence of God.  But since his/her belief in the existence of God is not based on REASON, neither is that person’s TRUST in God as a source of information and advice based on REASON.  Any beliefs such a person forms on the basis of beliefs about God communicating certain claims (e.g. ‘God is a Trinity’) must therefore also not be based on REASON.

So, contrary to my previous post, it appears that the Thomist view of faith allows for the POSSIBILITY of purely rational faith, but it does NOT imply that ‘faith in God’ is NECESSARILY purely rational faith, but leaves open the possiblity that ‘faith in God’ is quite often NOT purely rational faith.

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